Oct 20, 2016

October Assessment

So we are now a couple months into the school year. We have taken a day off here and there, so it is hard to tell exactly how many days/weeks it has been (we don't have to track days here in Texas) but I do know that the little kids just finished their eighth week of grammar, so we have done at least 8 weeks of work, I guess.

Anyway, I thought it might be a good time to assess how our year is going so far. And as long as I am doing that work, I might as well share the results with you, right?

We are using Math U See Pre-Algebra, Epsilon and Delta
MathUSee has been our go-to program for so long that we don't even think about it. The kids know exactly what to do and they need less and less help as we go along.

This year, Kaytie and Nate plunged into Pre-Algebra and have done better than any of us expected. Between the videos and the teacher manual and The Awesome Cousin (who is doing college algebra) they have managed to comprehend it all and are moving steadily forward.

Daniel is flying through fractions with no trouble at all. He easily sees patterns and shortcuts in math that the older two (and I) would never have noticed.

And even though she hates it, Abbie has grasped long division more easily and with fewer tears than all three of her siblings. I have even let her skip a couple of lessons and several review pages. She has almost completed Delta and will start Epsilon soon.

We are using Fix It! Grammar books: Frog Prince, Or Just Desserts, Robin Hood and The Nose Tree
Fix It! Grammar is still a huge hit. All four kids are learning so much and enjoying it! It blows me away that my "I hate words" kid who struggles with everything involving language is not only learning grammar effortlessly, but will remind me that he needs to do grammar if I don't say anything.

Kaytie and Nate are doubling up and doing two days' worth every day. I figure eventually they will need to slow down, but as long as they are handling it I will let them set the pace. Fix It! is so inexpensive that I won't mind at all buying the next book in January.

We are using All About Spelling Levels 7, 6 and 3
Kaytie is flying through All About Spelling Level 7. She and I work through the lesson one day, she writes the sentences the next day and we move on to the next Step. She is a pretty good speller, but since she is so close to finishing up the series and since I already owned the last level I decided she might as well go over all the spelling rules. She will probably complete it by Christmas break and is excited to think about leaving spelling (as a school subject) behind forever.

Nate is moving more slowly through Level 6. He struggles a little bit with certain rules and he HATES writing the sentences. I think by the end though, he will be a pretty good speller.

Daniel and Abbie just finished Level 2 and started on Level 3. They have to work harder on spelling than the older kids, but they are slowly progressing all the same.

We are using One Year Adventure Novel, Jump In!, and IEW SWI Level A
Kaytie is loving OYAN. She works at her own pace and emails me her assignments so I can give feedback. She is a strong enough writer that I  just suggest improvements more than actually correct anything. She just needs positive critiquing and a different perspective.

Nate is not loving Jump In! Do not take this as a negative against the program, though. He dislikes writing, especially when he is told what to write. It really doesn't matter what he used he would not enjoy it. It is something he has to do, however and Jump In! is the most painless way we have found to get the job done. He is supposed to work on it on Mondays and Wednesdays, but since he and Kaytie have Spanish class at 1:00 pm on Mondays, he generally just does it on Wednesdays. So he might, possibly, hopefully, finish it before he graduates from college...

Daniel and Abbie are using IEW. They sort of like it. They sort of don't. They are making forward progress, though. So we are going to hang in there a little while longer.

We are using our own thing
And by that, I mean, Kaytie is reading books I assign and writing about them. Nate is reading books I assign and discussing them with me. Daniel and Abbie are reading books that they choose off a list I created.

I'm a little frustrated with Kaytie's progress. It took her FOREVER to read All Creatures Great and Small and she is still working on her essay for it.

Nate, however, has read half a dozen books: Hans Brinker, The Ballad of Lucy Whipple, The Incredible Journey, Around the World in 80 Days, The Princess and Curdie, and is currently reading The Prince and The Pauper. He is having a blast.

Daniel reads easy chapter books and has been discovered reading How to Train Your Dragon in bed at night all on his own hook. That is major progress!

Abbie is also doing well. She loves books about animals, Ivy and Bean, Nate the Great and just finished The Ranger's Apprentice.

Daniel and Abbie are also listening to Magyk on audio book.

We are using Typing.com
The three younger kids all do a lesson twice a week. They are allowed to play a game or two as well. They are doing great but still have a disconnect between lessons and actual typing outside of lessons. I know my kids well enough to know that that will eventually happen, however.

We are working on cursive
Daniel and Abbie do copywork twice a week. Daniel is copying the book of Jonah (his choice). Abbie has just finished learning all the letters and has starting copying words and sentences. I pull most of her sentences out of our spelling books so I don't have to think of them myself.

We use Mystery of History, Discover Texas, and literature books and bunch of projects
We are not doing well with History. Not at all. We haven't even started Texas History yet. And in regular history we are still in the Greeks. I have been reading aloud The Children's Homer and it is... well, bogging us down. I can only stomach reading a chapter at a time and there are a lot of chapters! I would just drop it, but the kids are engaged in the story and making a lot of really great connections so I keep trudging forward.

My original plan was to do projects in the afternoons, but we are rarely all home in the afternoons because of so many outside classes and clubs we are in. Someday we will get around to doing the projects I guess. Or I will get desperate enough to figure something else out.

We are using Apologia General Science, Signs and Seasons and a compilation of resources for Human Anatomy
Kaytie and Nate are trudging right along with their General Science. I still have hope that they will finish middle school science before they need to start high school science. They are acing all the tests so at least I know they are learning something!

Daniel and Abbie and I are having fun with human anatomy. We did a quick overview of cells and such and have been exploring the skeletal system, It's fun. They are kids that enjoy models and games and I have been enjoying doing all the stuff that used to make Kaytie and Nate sigh at me. In theory, we will finish human anatomy with enough time to study geology, zoology and chemistry before the year ends.

Kaytie is also doing Signs and Seasons as a science elective. She does it independently and checks in regularly so that I know she is actually moving forward.

We are using a bunch of different stuff pulled together
This has been fun. The kids are mostly independent on this. They have been drawing Europe, learning European flags with cards I made, learning capitals and countries with Sporcle, and singing songs with Geography Songs. I write the day's assignment on the board and they do it whenever they like (or someone else isn't doing it) during the day.

We are using Bible Study Guide for All Ages
Everybody does this twice a week. They are all getting bored with it, but I haven't found anything to use instead so they are stuck with it for awhile longer.

We are using Duolingo, Salsa videos, and Flip Flop Spanish as well as outsourcing
Kaytie and Nate are taking a high school level class from a homeschool mom friend who speaks Spanish fluently. We are loving it! The kids are learning not just Spanish but how to learn from another adult and how to do so in a class setting. I am psyched that I don't have to mess with teaching anything. I drive them to class and remind them to do homework, that's it. It's awesome. I love it so much that I am strongly considering outsourcing other core classes as they get older.

They are also doing Duolingo on their own because they loved it too much to give it up. They do it daily and are 99% independent with it.

Daniel and Abbie and I work with Flip Flop twice a week. I supplement it with Salsa videos, and, occasionally, reading some easy reader Spanish books that we have collected over the years. Abbie loves Spanish and begs to do it first every day.

We are just practicing what we know and trying not to backslide while we are looking for a new teacher
They practice 20ish minutes a day.

We are using Youtube videos, how to draw books, and outsourcing
Neither boy is doing art this year. Abbie is taking a class from a homeschool graduate and Kaytie is perfecting her portrait and comic book skills.

We are using The Art of Argument
This is our other flop. We dropped Art of Argument because it was complicated and the kids were frustrated. And honestly, so was I. I think it is mostly because we don't have a student book. It is just too difficult for them to write answers without seeing what is already there. I haven't decided on a good fix and we just aren't doing Logic at all right now.

We are using Khan Academy and Scratch
The boys are doing tech instead of art. They work at Khan Academy or Scratch twice a week. I have no idea what they are doing because I simply don't understand it. I do have reassurance (it's a long, complicated story that I won't go into here) that Nate, at least, is doing what he needs to do and learning what he needs to learn. So there's that.

Extra Curricular
Kaytie is taking a for-fun creative writing class with a few other middle school girls. We all go to Chess Club and, occasionally, Poetry and Tea. And we are wrapping up the fall soccer season in a couple of weeks giving us a break from formal PE for awhile. We also have co-op on Fridays.

So there you have it. We mostly manage to finish all our daily allotment of work in under five hours although occasionally there is a kid or two that dawdles around and takes longer. I think so far our year is going great. Well, except for history. We are history failures. But looking at it in an assessment does give me the perspective and motivation to take steps to fix it.

How is your year going?

Oct 19, 2016

Homeschool Review Crew: The Familyman

I love holidays and one of my favorite holidays is Christmas. I love the excitement and the traditions. I bask in the sparkle and glow. I anticipate the joy my kids have on Christmas Eve and the delight my kids will display on Christmas morning. I enjoy the shopping, a thing I normally avoid, because it's so much fun to choose great gifts for the people I love.

We have tons of Christmas traditions in our house, but I feel like we can never really have too many, so I was pleased to get the chance to add one more when The Familyman asked the Homeschool Review Crew to review The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews

We were sent Digital Downloads for the purpose of this review. We received eight different stories. Each story is about Christmas. Not about the "world's Christmas" of trees and Santa and presents that don't last. Each story reminds the listener of the real reason for Christmas: to celebrate the birth of the Christ Child who grew up to become the Savior of the world.

Cootie McKay's Nativity, book one  is the story of a small town who learned that Jesus died for everyone, even those people who are a little bit (or a whole lot) weird. They also learn that those oddballs can have an awful lot to offer if you are willing to accept them. 

Captain Chaos and the Manger Blaster, book two  is reminiscent of the well told tale of wishes coming true. What would happen if the manger was blasted and Jesus was never born? Captain Chaos helps Jason discover just that after Jason gets into trouble for fighting with his sister and wishing he could change the Christmas story into something more exciting. 

The Stranger, book three  is the tale of how a family's Christmas Eve is rapidly being ruined. But the kindness that they show a scary stranger reminds them of how Jesus' love is the reason we celebrate in the first place.  

The Bishop's Dream, book four  is the story of Bishop Nicholas and a strange dream/vision that brings him forward into the future. He is shocked to see that Christmas is not a celebration of the birth of the Savior but a festival of feasting and presents. He is saddened that people think Christmas is about Santa Claus. "It's not about me! It's about HIM!"
(A little heads-up to my Catholic readers: there is a slight "dig" at Nicholas being called a Saint.)

Harold Grubbs and the Christmas Vest, book five is a dad's memory of the "meanest man in town" and how Jesus changed his life. Harold Grubbs in his Christmas Vest is a reminder to an entire town of the power of Jesus' love. 

Gladys Remembers Christmas book six is a heartwarming story of an unloved middle aged woman. The memory of Christmas past helps her remember that no one is truly unloved because Jesus loves each of us enough to come to earth and give His life for us. 

The Secret of Snow Village book seven is a little story of a little girl's magical visit to her grandmother's miniature Christmas village which teaches her that Jesus is the center of Christmas, not all the fun trimmings. 

It's Called Christmas, book eight is a story from the future. A boy uses technology to send back to us, people in his past, a warning. In the future, religion, Christmas, Jesus, the Bible, have all been erased from public knowledge. Christmas has become a meaningless holiday of trees and gift giving and no one knows about the love and sacrifice of the real story of Christmas. Thanks to the bravery of stranger, the boy, Nook, learns about Christianity and sends a warning back to us so that we can, hopefully, keep it from actually happening. 

Each story is written by Todd Wilsos, read aloud by Jim Hodges, and is from 15 to 30 minutes long. Each story points us toward Christ but does not ever condemn the partaking in all the traditions of the holiday. The message of every story is that presents and trees and cookies and all are fun (not bad) but that they should never keep us from remembering that the reason for all the good things is the birth of our Lord Jesus Christ. 

Since the stories are so short, it was easy to find time to listen to them. I enjoyed every one. My children, who prefer high-action tales of derring-do and enormous acts of bravery and heroism to heart-warming, inspirational stories such as these, only listened to a couple of the stories with me before they starting looking at me sideways and finding other things to do when I turned them on. 

But I don't care. The Familyman's Christmas Treasury are well done, wholesome tales that are perfect for those December days when your children's hands are busy with baking or crafts or gift-making. I plan on playing the entire treasury to them when I have such a captive audience. I do believe they will enjoy them a lot more with Christmas looming on the horizon and they need the reminder that "It is about Him". 

The Familyman's Christmas Treasury - Audio Collection {The Familyman} Reviews

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Oct 10, 2016

Homeschool Review Crew: MyFreezEasy

Sometimes, when I excitedly announce to my family the imminent arrival of a new review item, they look at me askance. "We have to do WHAT?"

But when they heard that this review was to do with food, they were all in. They like to eat so they eagerly waited with me for the arrival of our MyFreezEasy.com Freezer Meal Plan Membership from MyFreezEasy.

 photo 10 Meals in 1 hour with My FreezEasy_zpsxkxorwy5.jpg

I, personally, don't generally get too excited about food. I'm the kind of person that eats to live rather than lives to eat. I can be pretty picky but it's not just that. I can often simply forget to eat because so many things are more important. It follows then, that cooking is not my favorite household chore. I taught my kids to cook when they were quite young and we are all rather proud of the fact that the older two (ages 12 and 13) can cook anything I can while the younger two (ages 9 and 10) can pull together a meal if need be.

Also, I have some picky eaters in my house. Not to name names, but one of them is one I did not raise and the other one was born later in my life when I was too tired and overworked to fight that battle. She is not as picky as the other one whose Name We Do Not Speak. ((ahem))

So I've never been too interested in meal plans. Between the fact that we have a workable menu plan that all of us can pull off, and the ones who won't eat certain things, I never saw the value in it.

Well, at least, not until this fall. Combine an incredibly busy three months with an opportunity to try one for free and I was willing to give it a shot. Plus, MyFreezEasy had an extra incentive. Let me explain...

MyFreezEasy is not "just" a meal plan. First, it is many different meal plans. Each month, I received access to a month's plan, already completely filled out and done for me. This plan is 10 meals with recipes, shopping lists, and instructions on how to double the recipes and freeze half. So in one fell swoop, I can plan, shop for, and prepare 20 meals. So I can do almost a month's worth of cooking in one hour.

I have never really been able to wrap my head around "once-a-month" cooking before. But with MyFreezEasy, I don't have to. All the work of thinking it out is done for me and I just have to follow the instructions.

But what about my picky eaters? How do I let someone who doesn't even know us pick meals for us? And what about the other 10 days of the month? Not to worry, that is taken care of.

I can use those 10 meals, but I don't have to. When I go to This Month's Meal Plans, I have many options. I can choose:

  • 20 meals plan [10 recipes for 20 meals total]
  • Traditional meal plan [5 recipes for 10 meals]
  • Gluten Free meal plan [5 gluten free recipes for 10 meals]
  • Slow Cooker meal plan [5 recipes for 10 meals that utilize the crock pot]
  • Clean Eats meal plan [5 recipes for 10 "clean" meals]
  • All Chicken meals plan [5 recipes for 10 meals using only chicken]
  • All Ground Beef meals plan [5 recipes for 10 meals using only hamburger]
  • All Pork Chops meals plan [5 recipes for 10 meals using only pork chops]

MyFreezEasy.com Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

Or, (and this is the best part!) or, since I have the Premium Membership, I can create my own plan. I can swap recipes in and out of the above plans or I can simply pull 5 or more recipes from any of those plans to create my own, customized plan. When I do this, I can then download the plan and with it comes all the recipes, shopping lists, and doubling/freezing instructions. It is just that easy. And that awesome.

Plus, once I download it, it is forever on my computer, in a PDF, so I can reuse the plan at a later date. I also always have access to the recipes that we really loved. Each recipe is on it's own page, so I can print just the ones that I want and put them in my recipe book in any order that I want.

There are also printable labels to put on your freezer bags that tell you: what it is; times and temps information for cooking; and when you froze it (you have to put that on yourself, of course, but there's a place for it).

When I create my own, customized plan, I can choose meals based on:

  • Type of Protein: chicken; ground beef; other beef; pork chops; other pork; seafood; or vegetarian;
  • Cooking Method: slow cooker; dutch oven or saucepan; baked; skillet; grill; or one dish;
  • Dietary Preferences: recipes I have marked as favorites; gluten free; dairy free; gluten, dairy, soy free; Paleo/whole 30; top 8 allergy free

And all of the above can be mixed and matched. I can also set it to serve 2, 4, 6 or 8 people. The drawback is that I can only choose 5 meals at a time and I have to choose 5 meals. We do a "get your own" night on Sundays, so I don't cook 7 suppers a week, but that still leaves me with needing to plan 6 (or 12) so I think it would be awesome to have the option of adding one more meal so I could do 2 whole weeks in one go.

MyFreezEasy.com Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}

MyFreezEasy was super easy to use. After some initial poking around the site, (there are welcome videos and how-to videos to help get you up to speed) I chose 5 meals quickly and easily and downloaded the PDF. On the PDF I scrolled down to the Freezer Prep Shopping List by Store Section page and added the ingredients to my regular shopping list.

After shopping, I opened the PDF again (you could print it but I chose to work off the computer until the recipes have been approved by my family) and followed the pre-cook and assembly instructions. One of the things I really loved about this part is that each meal fits into a gallon-sized freezer bag so I could actually fit a week's worth of meals into my teeny tiny freezer and still have room for other things (like ice cream, ahem).

And that was all there was to it. Oh, except for the taste test! So far, not one of the meals has been rejected by my family. Now, I did tweak the recipes here and there a bit. For example, we don't eat onions, so I use onion powder whenever they are called for. I also substitute anything I know certain people won't eat. But they were really easy to tweak and make my own without a lot of extra work and we have so many new favorites!

Oh, and another plus, there are instructions for cooking each recipe as a single meal. So I can choose to just cook a favorite one night if I don't want to take the extra step of freezing an extra for later.

All in all, we are LOVING MyFreezEasy.comFreezerMealPlanMembership!!!

MyFreezEasy.com Freezer Meal Plan Membership {MyFreezEasy}
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Then and Now

A year ago today we lost our minds and adopted two puppies. The same day. 

First was Scout: a shepherd, heeler, boxer mix.

This is her on the day we brought her home.

This is her today. She is cute and babyish. She likes her own way. She is bossy and charming, demanding and loving. Nate is her favorite person.

Shiloh was the surprise. She is a shepherd/lab. 

This is her the day we brought her home. 

This is her today. She is aloof and reserved. She is also incredibly smart and obedient. She is a peace-loving pup who will almost always yield to everyone simply because she is pretty sure you want it more than she does. She is enormous. Daddy is her favorite person. 

Happy Gotcha Day, Puppies!!!

Oct 9, 2016


We give our kids an allowance each month. It isn't a whole lot by today's standards probably, but it works for us. We don't just hand over money, though. We have a system. First, each kid sets aside their tithe. The rest of the money is divided into equal thirds. One third is for long term savings for cars and college and such stuffs. The second third is for short term savings, mostly for buying the Christmas gifts they love to shop for and give. And finally they have money they can spend.

This method is meant to encourage the "savers" to spend wisely and the "spenders" to save wisely. I'm not sure how well it is working, though.

Nate went to the store with his dad and mysteriously had money to spend on Pokemon cards. When they got home I questioned him and discovered that he had pulled money out of his short term savings envelope and spent it.

"Nate!" I admonished, "What is the base word for 'savings'?"

"Save," he admitted, sheepishly.

"Well, then, why didn't you save it?!?!"

"I DID save it! I saved it up to spend today!"

Oct 5, 2016

Homeschool Review Crew: Everyday Education, LLC

My daughter Kaytie is a writer. It is what she does in her free time for fun. She writes stories, a lot of stories, but sometimes, she even enjoys writing the more "boring stuff" for school. And she plans on writing in some form or other to be a major part of her college education and her future. So I thought she might get some good out of Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers from Everyday Education, LLC.

We were given a download of the ebook which comes in PDF format. I put it on our iPad so it would be handy for her to reference.

Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
With 420 pages, this book is enormous. I think it must cover every possible thing you would ever want to know. It is aimed at high school and college age writers. It offers samples and full instructions for writing essays and arguments. It also gives rules and information for style and usage.
The handbook starts with arguments, or "an essay that clearly and convincingly presents a point of view". This is basically short, quick lessons on how to set up your argument, define the focus of your argument, decide on your opinion of that focus (your thesis), form a good thesis statement, set up an outline, and then compose strong paragraphs. 
The student is taught how to write an introduction, a main body and a conclusion of a persuasive essay, with every detail covered in the lesson from logic to coherence to structure. By the end, your student should be able to write a really strong essay.
Next is a section on literary analysis essays and then research papers. Now, to be clear, these are not "curriculum type" lessons, but just information with some examples and exercises for your student to do in order to gain understanding of the process. 
Next is the usage and style section. This section is HUGE. It covers everything:
phrases, clauses, sentences
words (slang, names in formal writing, euphemisms, commonly misused words, frequently misspelled words, abbreviations, etc)
basic punctuation
parallel structure
modifiers, gerunds, infinitives
clarity, logic and structure
references and bibliographies
basic format for essays and research papers
with hundreds of subjects within those topics.
Each section and paragraph is numbered so that as you grade your student's writing, you can jot down the section number by the correction and your child knows exactly where to find the information needed to correct the mistake and learn from it.
Kaytie is 13 and in 8th grade. She looked over the ebook to get a basic idea of what it held. She read her way through the first part about writing arguments and did a few of the exercises. Up till now, she hasn't ever written anything as serious as an essay, so I was pretty happy that she was able to read this before she attempted to do so. As I said, she writes a lot, but mostly fiction. I haven't tried to give her any high school level assignments because I really don't know how to go about it. The Excellence in Literature Handbook for Writers helps us both, me as the teacher and her as the student.
But what she has really enjoyed using is the usage and style part of the book. As she first read over the table of contents, she exclaimed, "Commas! Yea! I am always confused about commas. This will be so helpful!"
Now, whenever she has a question, she has a place to go to find the answers.
This book is definitely something she will use for years to come. 
Beautiful Handwriting, Literature and Poetry {Everyday Education, LLC}
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